As a high school teacher, I preach the cautionary tale that one stupid decision can cost a lot more than you care to pay, so don’t be stupid. It tends to fall on deaf ears.
In this sad-yet-hopeful book, by Keary Taylor, Jake Hayes pays the price for a moment of stupidity, and the check he writes is for a lifetime. On the night of his senior Homecoming game, Jake, his fellow football players, and an assortment of classmates gather at a friend’s house for some revelry and celebration. Jake, typical of teenagers, drinks a couple of beers. As the alcohol loosens him up, he decides that this is the moment to go tell Samantha Shay, a girl he has loved forever, that he does, in fact, love her. So he hops in a truck with two equally intoxicated friends and … he winds up losing his vocal chords.
Jake must come to grips with the new question in his life: now what?
Showing almost preternatural maturity, perhaps due to being one of seven siblings, Jake decides that this accident will not define him or cage him. He will not be a victim. Yet, he does occasionally wallow in self-pity. He has moments of frustration, and he combats despair. When he returns to school after the accident, he does so with his hood pulled up, desperately trying to forestall people staring at his scar. He watches his friends move on, seemingly without a care or concern, and it dawns on him that he will never again yell at his siblings. He has to adjust.
But in the midst of this darkness comes some light: he and Samantha grow closer. She even comes with other classmates to visit him in the hospital.
“Bye, Jake,” a sweet voice said as bodies filed out the door. My eyes rose to meet Samantha’s. She looked at me sadly, but for once, it felt like she was really seeing me.
Something in me hardened.
It had taken nearly getting decapitated for Sam to finally really notice me.
I didn’t even say, or rather write or wave good-bye as she gave me one more sad look and left, closing the door behind her.
Screw them all.
So, yeah. He has some work to do. But despite the bitterness, Jake adjusts to his muteness with startling equanimity.
What I liked about this book is its story and characters. Jake is a guy you root for, even when he’s feeling sorry for himself or doing something stupid. He is determined that the accident will not destroy him, but there are moments when he acknowledges that he is powerless to combat some of the changes he now must make.
Samantha, too, is lovely. She has challenges of her own, which we slowly discover. Much like Jake, she demonstrates extraordinary grace under circumstances that would decimate her peers.
And this brings me to what I didn’t like about this book: Jake and Samantha are almost too good. Yes, they struggle. Yes, they have much to overcome. But despite their separately horrific circumstances, they show strength of character that most teens do not or cannot. On the other hand, I think teenagers will read this and think, “I can do it,” when faced with obstacles and challenges. Jake and Samantha may turn out to be role models.
There are some heartbreaking moments in this book, and the mistakes Jake and Samantha make are very real. In fact, it is those mistakes that ground them as characters and invest you in their stories.
What I Didn’t Say is the story of overcoming adversity, yes, but it is also a cautionary tale. Do not put off saying something that is important to you, because you may not get the chance. Do not waste time, because you might not have it to waste.
Published by CreateSpace and available on Amazon.com.
Thanks to NetGalley for the preview.